Close Shave

Charles Mungoshi

‘Close Shave’ explores the fragility of life by highlighting the myriad dangers that surround us every moment of our lives.

Charles Mungoshi

Nationality: African

Charles Mungoshi was a renowned Zimbabwean writer known for his poetic storytelling and social commentary.

His literary repertoire encompasses poetry, novels, and short stories.

Key Poem Information

Unlock more with Poetry+

Central Message: Danger surrounds us everyday

Themes: Aging, Death

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Anxiety, Fear, Worry

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

'Close Shave' successfully creates an atmosphere of apprehension and worry, drawing the reader in to the tension of the scene.

Charles Mungoshi’s ‘Close Shave‘ ponders the fleeting and precarious nature of life as the narrator observes a plane flying low overhead. The ambiguous title refers both to the fact the narrator is at a barber while also figuratively alluding to the fragility of life.


Close Shave‘ demonstrates how close we are to catastrophe at any given moment, no matter how benign it may seem.

The poem begins by describing the loud noise made by a low-flying plane above the narrator’s head as they are being shaved in what seems to be a poorly constructed building. The sound clearly makes the narrator feels nervous and, coupled with the close presence of the razor, makes him consider the fragility of life.

He appears in a contemplative mood, recalling past events perhaps as a way of distracting himself from the frightening nature of his present circumstances. The poem ends as a clump of hair falls to his lap while he simultaneously remembers some incident from his past that is not revealed to the reader.


Born to a farming family in 1947, Charles Mungoshi went on to become one of Zimbabwe’s finest writers. During his long career, he published both novels and poetry and won numerous literary awards, including the Commonwealth Writers Prize on two occasions. Much of his work was preoccupied by his native Zimbabwe and he regularly expressed anti-colonial sentiment in his work. He was granted the position of writer-in-residence at the University of Zimbabwe in 1995. Mungoshi died in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, in 2019 at the age of seventy-one.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-5

A plane roars above
rattling the loose sheets of the roof.
Clearly he hears the click-click
of the barber’s cold shears
close to his jugular vein.

The poet begins by using zoomorphism when describing how the plane “roars above” which emphasises the volume and close proximity of the plane to the ground. It also implies the plane is a predatory figure actively hunting those beneath it which adds to the man’s sense of unease. The uncertain connotations of the adjective “loose” reinforces the uneasy atmosphere by implying the building is poorly constructed and that it could easily collapse and bury the man.

The onomatopoeic “click-click” immerses the reader in the scene and this sense of immersion is also achieved through the sensory associations of the adjective “cold”. The word “shears” appears incongruous as one would associate this term more with animals than people. This is perhaps intended to imply the man feels trapped and without choice, like an animal who is sheared by its owner. Finally, the mention of the jugular vein imbues the poem with an ominous sense of danger by reminding the reader how little it would take for the blade to slip and threaten the man’s life.

Lines 6-11

He swallows, dryly –
softly – heavily falls in his lap.

The adverb “dryly” helps demonstrate the man’s nervousness because having a dry mouth is commonly associated with feeling uneasy or apprehensive. The metaphorical claim that a distant memory “brushes his brow” implies the memory he is recalling to be a detailed and all-consuming experience, so much so that he can almost physically feel its presence. The metaphor also implies that memory is fleeting and that the man cannot escape his presence for long.

The alliterative “big ball” creates a dull, thudding sound which could perhaps imply that the man’s experience of his present circumstances is repetitive and uninspiring. The fact his hair is grey suggests he is an older man which, when coupled with his unease and the escapism he enjoyed when remembering something from his past, indicates he may be contemplating his own mortality and the passage of time.

The oxymoronic claim that his hair falls both softly and heavily emphasises the fact he is experiencing life both literally and figuratively. On the one hand, the hair falls softly because it doesn’t weigh much. On the other hand, it falls heavily because it reminds him of the fact he is aging and will eventually have to face up to his own mortality.


What is the structure of ‘Close Shave?’

The poem is written in a single stanza and uses free verse. It is a very short poem, containing only eleven lines. This brevity and lack of structure could reflect the man’s feelings that life is moving very quickly. It could also imply that life is unpredictable and that there are any number of dangers that could cause us harm.

What is the significance of the title, ‘Close Shave?’

The title refers literally to the fact the man is being shaved at a barber. However, the phrase is also used when a person is attempting to convey how close they were to disaster or pain. This meaning matches up with the man’s sense of panic and worry at the various dangers he perceives around him.

What does the man remember in ‘Close Shave?’

The nature of the man’s recollection is not revealed to the reader, as the poem is more concerned with his external experience of the room. However, it could be that he is remembering something pleasant as a means of distraction. Conversely, it could be a negative memory of a time he felt in danger, given his fearful demeanor in the poem.

What is the message of ‘Close Shave?’

The poem’s message appears to be that danger surrounds us at all times and we cannot avoid it, even if we are doing seemingly benign things like having a shave. The poem implies that the plane could crash, the building could collapse, or that the blade may cut the man’s throat. This inescapable sense of peril can either liberate a person, by reminding them that they cannot control things and should, therefore, just get on with life. However, it seems to have the opposite effect on the man in the poem.

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘Close Shave‘ might want to explore similar poetry. For example:

Poetry+ Review Corner

Close Shave

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Charles Mungoshi (poems)

Charles Mungoshi

The poem showcases Mungoshi's style brilliantly as it demonstrates his sensitivity to the everyday and the mundane. It also captures the sense of paranoia and unease that permeates through much of his work.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+

20th Century

The poem is clearly situated in the modern world due to the presence of the airplane flying overhead. It can therefore be interpreted as a comment on the frightening, uneasy nature of modern life. Despite this, it is not a well-known example of 20th century poetry.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


Mungoshi was one of Zimbabwe's finest writers of the twentieth century and continued to write until his death in 2019. The setting of the poem itself is unclear, as the presence of an airplane doesn't necessarily narrow down the potential locations. The reference to the loose sheets on the roof implies the building could be in Africa.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The figure's graying hair gives some indication as to his age, which, coupled with his preoccupation with death, suggests he is quite elderly. Likewise, his longing sense of memory implies he is looking back at his faraway youth.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


While there is no explicit mention of death in the poem, and nobody dies, the shadow of death is imbued within the lines. The man in the barber's chair appears to fear death and sees routes to it all around him.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


As the poem's title suggests, the figure in the poem is extremely anxious about his surroundings and appears convinced that there are numerous ways he could come to harm. These include the plane above them crashing, the walls around them collapsing, or the blade slipping and cutting his throat.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


Whether or not his fears are justified, it is undeniable that the man in the poem appears frightened by his surroundings. The unlikeliness that any of his fears will be realised is largely irrelevant as the poem implies that he is simply a nervous, fearful individual who would simply find other events to fixate and worry over.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The man's physical demeanor suggests he is worried about something. The poem cleverly uses the sometimes nerve-wracking experience of getting one's hair cut to hide the far greater worries the man is experiencing. These are largely related to a fear for his own life.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The poem clearly implies that the veil which separates our seemingly ordered lives from chaos is incredibly thin. Mungoshi suggests that we are never far away from catastrophe and that threats surround us all the time.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+

Daily Life

The mundane nature of the poem's subject matter is belied by the fear experienced by its central figure. On paper, he is simply getting a shave while a plane flies overhead, but, to him, the environment is anything but normal, and he feels frightened and worried.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The poet juxtaposes the relative safety of the environment with the man's perceived sense of danger. Thus Mungoshi emphasizes the fact that danger can arise from seemingly innocuous things and that not everyone's notion of danger is the same.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The poem centers around the simple act of visiting a barber in order to get a shave and, perhaps, a haircut. The ominous descriptions of the barber's blade and of the man's exposed veins imbue the poem with tension and a fearful atmosphere. Overall, the experience of having one's hair or beard cut is shown to be anxiety-inducing to an enormous degree, to the point where it leaves the man fearing for his own life.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+

Free Verse

The poem is written in free verse which creates an uneasy and uncertain atmosphere. This could reflect the man's sense of unease and his belief that things could deteriorate at any moment. This is not a well-known example of the form, though.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The imminent sense of danger in the poem and the apparent threat of violence imbues a degree of horror into the text. Likewise, the title alludes to the violence of figures like Sweeney Todd and further adds to the poem's sense of horror.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+
Joe Santamaria Poetry Expert
Joe has a degree in English and Related Literature from the University of York and a Masters in Irish Literature from Trinity College Dublin. He is an English tutor and counts W.B Yeats, Emily Brontë and Federico Garcia Lorca among his favourite poets.

Join the Poetry Chatter and Comment

Exclusive to Poetry+ Members

Join Conversations

Share your thoughts and be part of engaging discussions.

Expert Replies

Get personalized insights from our Qualified Poetry Experts.

Connect with Poetry Lovers

Build connections with like-minded individuals.

Sign up to Poetry+
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Got a question? Ask an expert.x

We're glad you like visiting Poem Analysis...

We've got everything you need to master poetry

But, are you ready to take your learning

to the next level?

Share to...